- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Western Republican states that mostly were ignored by Democrats until Sen. Barack Obama “showed up” are turning into political battlegrounds in the 2008 election.

Republicans, with few exceptions in recent decades, have become accustomed to sweeping the Plains and Mountain States from the Canadian border to the Rio Grande - President Bush carried all of them in 2004 and all but one in 2000.

However, the Illinois Democrat is aggressively challenging Sen. John McCain in at least six of them, including Republican strongholds New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Montana and North and South Dakota, where polls show the race between the two rivals is close or in a dead heat.

The Obama campaign’s Western strategy is twofold: First and foremost, these states have been trending Democratic in the past decade and are ripe for the taking. Second, the closeness of the presidential race demands picking up additional electoral votes in Republican territory to offset potential losses in major tossup states like Florida and Ohio.

“You have a lot of ways to 270,” the number of electoral votes needed to win the election, Obama campaign manager David Plouff told reporters at a recent briefing. “Our goal is not to be reliant on one state on Nov. 4.

“We will compete aggressively in the West and the Southwest, especially in the states Bush won in 2004. We are building robust organizations across the regions, even in traditional GOP strongholds,” said Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro.

Taking a page out of Woody Allen’s philosophy that “80 percent of success is showing up,” the Obama campaign has made a strategic decision to mount serious campaigns in places such as North Dakota and Montana that are among the reddest of the red states. Though the two states have just six electoral votes between them, he has opened campaign offices in both states, including six in Montana.

“If I didn’t show up, I wouldn’t get many votes around here. If I did show up, I might get something going,” Mr. Obama told a fundraising crowd in Colorado Springs, where he held a four-point edge over Mr. McCain last week.

Mr. McCain isn’t taking the region for granted and has a team of surrogates campaigning for him there, including his former rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is popular in the region and won Republican primaries in Montana, Nevada, Utah, North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado.

“Nevada and the West will make the difference as to whether I’m the next president or not,” Mr. McCain told voters at the opening of his Nevada campaign headquarters earlier this month.

Here’s a rundown on where the races stand in these battleground states:

cColorado: A Public Policy Polling survey shows Mr. McCain trailing by four points, 43 percent to 47 percent, with 10 percent undecided and a three-point margin of error.

The Republican Party has carried the state in the past three presidential elections. Mr. Bush won it in 2004 by nearly 100,000 votes. Still, both Republican and Democratic polls show the race remains tight, and veteran election tracker Charlie Cook puts it in the “tossup” column.

cNorth Dakota: The last Democrat to carry this rock-ribbed Republican state was President Johnson in 1964, and Democrats since then all but ignored it until Mr. Obama moved a full-time campaign organization into the state. Mr. Bush carried the state by 27 points in both his elections. Yet its senators and congressman-at-large are Democrats, and the Obama camp is investing heavily in the state and has begun airing TV ads there.

cA Rasmussen poll conducted July 8 showed the race in a dead heat with 43 percent each, 7 percent supporting a third-party candidate and 7 percent undecided.

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